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Travel with children by car, plane, bus and train

1-11 years

Family travel with kids sometimes involves long journeys by car, plane, bus or train – or all four. Starting with safety and comfort, our practical tips can help you take the stress out of travelling with kids.

Travelling with kids by car: car comfort tips

It can help to keep the things you and your child need for the journey within easy reach – for example, snacks, water bottles, wipes and toys.

For long car trips, plan regular stops so everyone can get out of the car and have a stretch. This includes babies, who can roll around on a rug on the ground.

You can put a visor or sun shade on the car windows, or hang a damp towel over the window to protect your child from the sun. Just check that shades don’t stop the driver from seeing the road through the side or rear windows.

Also, don’t put a hood or bonnet over a capsule to protect your baby from the sun. This can reduce air circulation around your baby.

Find out what the law says about appropriate child restraints for children of different ages, as well as car safety.

Travelling with kids by plane

Travelling by plane can be a fun and exciting experience for children. It can also sometimes be stressful for parents. Here are some tips for making plane travel as low-stress as possible.

Planning for your flight
When booking tickets for family travel, you could look into:

  • booking a bassinette if you have a baby
  • pre-ordering children’s meals
  • getting a stroller at the airport
  • looking at seat arrangements – for example, it can be easier to sit on the aisle so your child can get to the toilet quickly if he needs to
  • getting help from a staff member at the airport (some airlines provide this if you’re travelling with children by yourself or your child has special needs).

For longer flights make sure you have all the things your child might need in your carry-on luggage. These things might include:

  • a change of clothes
  • a pillow and special toys
  • nappies, wipes and tissues
  • extra sick bags
  • drink bottle
  • extra snacks
  • entertainment items like books, pencils, paper and so on.

If you have one, you might like to bring a tablet for your child to watch movies or play games on – but remember to pack headphones too.

Getting on the plane
It’s a good idea to talk with your child ahead of time about things like going through security. Explain that she might have to take off her shoes or anything that has metal in it, like a watch. And she won’t be able to carry her toy or backpack through the security gates.

Note that you’ll need to carry babies and toddlers through the security screening checks. If your child can walk by himself, he’ll be encouraged to walk through the metal detector on his own.

Air pressure
The change in air pressure on planes can give children sore ears, especially during take-off and landing.

Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding babies and toddlers can help with this problem, because swallowing reduces the pressure that builds up in their ears. If you can, time your baby’s feeds for take-off and landing.

For preschoolers and older children, a drink of water or a chewy lolly to suck on can help.

Travelling with children by bus or train

When booking bus or train tickets, you might like to look into:

  • whether you can book seats that offer more room for babies and children
  • where the bus or train stops for meals and breaks or what food you can get on board
  • whether a staff member can help you at the station (you might be able to get help if you’re travelling with children by yourself or your child has special needs). 

As with car or plane travel, it can be a good idea to pack extra snacks, as well as toys and books or a tablet to keep your child entertained.

Motion sickness

Motion or travel sickness happens when your inner ear ‘tells’ your brain you’re moving – for example, travelling in a car – but your eyes ‘say’ that your body is still. This clash of information in the brain can cause vomiting, sick feelings and dizziness.

If you or your child vomit a lot when you travel, see a doctor.

You and your child can try to avoid motion sickness by:

  • looking at the road ahead, or at the horizon 
  • trying to keep your head still
  • not reading or using tablet devices in the car
  • getting some fresh air into the car 
  • eating and drinking small amounts regularly, rather than having large meals
  • trying to take your minds off feeling sick by singing songs or playing a game.

If you know your child gets motion sickness a lot, it can be a good idea to prepare ahead and have an ice cream bucket, plastic bags, wipes and a spare change of clothes handy in the car, in case your child vomits. Check in on your child every so often to see how she’s going, and take a break if she needs to get some fresh air.

Travelling with children with special needs

Medication
If your child needs medication, and you’re travelling for a long time, make sure you’ve packed enough to last you the whole trip.

It’s also a good idea to travel with spare medication. Doctors often recommend taking twice the amount your child needs in case of unexpected events – for example, if your child gets sick during the trip, or if you lose or damage the medication while travelling. You should split any medications between your hand luggage and suitcases in case one piece of luggage goes missing.

If you’re travelling outside Australia, you should carry a copy of your prescription and a note from your prescribing doctor. This is in case you’re questioned by customs.

Special equipment
If you need special equipment – like a wheelchair – you might like to talk to your airline or travel agent before you travel, in case they need to make special arrangements or organise extra help. Check with the airline before you fly to see whether there are any restrictions on taking medical equipment on board.

Special meals
If you’re flying and your child has special dietary needs, you can contact the airline to organise a suitable meal. It might also be a good idea to bring your own food in case the airline can’t provide the food your child needs.

Preparing your child
Some children with special needs can find travelling scary and unfamiliar. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can help to explain what your child might expect when travelling. For example, if you’re flying, talk to him about the security screening process so that he knows what’s going to happen before he gets there. You can also use Social Stories™ to teach your child about appropriate social behaviour and to help him know what to expect.

Planning your time
When you’re travelling with children with special needs, it’s always good to plan for things to take longer than you expect. If you give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going and get organised when you get there, it can reduce stress for everyone, and help keep your child calm and happy.

Video

Family holidays and children with disability

4:56

In this video, parents of children with disability talk about family holidays. Choices might be more limited, especially If you need wheelchair access or have to be close to a hospital or health care. These mums suggest being realistic about what your family can do together and making sure accommodation will suit your family’s needs.

Always let the airline know you have a child with special needs. That can avoid waiting in lines and misunderstandings with staff.
– Mum of a five-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

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Last updated or reviewed
02-08-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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